Surprising as it sounds, a number of Israeli Arabs from a few different Arab towns voted for the United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox party, in appreciation for receiving assistance from its party head and Deputy Health Minister, Yakov Litzman.
By Yehuda Shlezinger
At a polling station in the Arab town of Arara in Wadi Ara, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party garnered 224 votes. In the Arab local council Bu’eine Nujeidat in Israel’s north, UTJ received 156 votes, as compared to just two votes in the last elections.
In Kafr Kanna, an Arab town in the Galilee, UTJ did not win any votes in the last elections. But on Tuesday, 122 of the town’s residents gave their vote to the party. UTJ also garnered a surprising number of votes in the Druze town of Sajur in the Galillee, the Arab city of Sakhnin in the Lower Galilee as well as a few other places you would be hard-pressed to describe as bastions of the haredi community.
So what exactly convinced Arab Israelis to vote for a party of ultra-Orthodox Jews?
The answer can be found in a recent picture of Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman’s office, in which dozens of boxes filled with thousands of public inquiries can be seen. It is here that UTJ’s eighth Knesset seat can be found. Every single family, whether secular, religious or Arab, that received Litzman’s assistance on matters concerning their health, expressed their appreciation at the ballot box. For every sick person Litzman helped, there is an entire family that voted for UTJ.
The Shas party also did better than expected. After all, just two months ahead of the elections, pollsters had predicted it wouldn’t pass the electoral threshold. But anyone who has followed Shas over the years knows that the polls consistently underestimate Shas’ voter base. As Shas party leader Aryeh Deri convincingly argued when he dismissed those bleak predictions: “In the municipal elections, Shas received 270,000 votes. If we bring them to the ballot box, we will be set with seven or even eight Knesset seats.”
Eli Yishai, whose ultra-Orthodox Yachad party garnered 125,000 votes in the last elections after he withdrew from Shas, did not run this time around. Add to that the disgust quite a few Separdim feel for Yishai’s endorsement of the Askhenazi UTJ party, and it is clear that Shas’ base comprises eight seats. Had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not embarked on his so-called “gevalt” campaign to rally right-wing voters behind the Likud, Shas might have done even better.